Published October 2017, for the 2017-2018 winter season.
Our best piece of ski touring equipment advice is a simple one: when it comes to ski touring kit, it’s worth remembering the old adage that every extra kilo on your back knocks 10% off your enjoyment of the descents. Getting hold of the best and lightest kit available is generally always worth it. Here is our take on the seasons best new kit.
If you need advice on choosing the ideal ski, boot and binding combo for you needs – take a look at our choosing a backcountry ski setup advice article.
Below we highlight features to look for and a number of recommended products for most main items of kit – with a big thanks to the staff at Backcountry UK, our thoroughly recommended Ski Touring Equipment retailer, for helping me keep this article up to date each season.
In our opinion, the best easy-to-use unit for Brits who ski a few times a year on holiday, is the new Mammut Baryvox (which replaces the popular Element model this year). The new Mammut Baryvox S is the replacement to the Pulse, which for years has been the best top end unit around for more experienced users and professionals. Both of these units offer a 60m search width, which is a x3 improvement on older generation models (ie a really big deal) and are due to arrive in the shops by Xmas – but if you are in a hurry, then the Arva Axio is another good alternative to look at.
All of the above transceivers use the latest 3 antenna digital technology – the more advanced models use additional technologies, which allow for extra features and may also speed up search times. It must be stressed however, that the most important thing is to practice and train extensively with the transceiver that you actually own.
NB We no longer allow the old Ortovox F1 analogue transceiver on our ski trips – due to frequency drift and compatibility problems with newer digital transceivers.
Warning – Smart Phone Apps: a number of smart phone apps appeared recently, claiming to turn your phone into a transceiver – DO NOT BUY these, as they do not work! The Canadian Avalanche Foundation looked into them and issued a press release warning people against using them.
SKI TOURING BINDINGS
This is an area undergoing considerable change at the moment, with new models coming out each year and most ski tourers are now switching to lightweight pin bindings, as opposed to traditional bar/frame design touring bindings.
There are a number of things you need to know about lightweight pin bindings however, before deciding to make any switch – so please read our comments carefully and seek some expert advice.
Pin bindings have been around for 30 years now – the original Dynafit Low Tech binding design is still being made and used by thousands of ski tourers around the world. The main advantage of pin bindings is a considerable weight saving, as they are up to 1kg lighter than equivalent bar/frame designs.
With most pin bindings however, this weight saving comes at a cost: in terms of ease of use and also safety release capability – as most designs don’t have any lateral safety release function at the toe. Since the original Dynafit patent expired a few years ago, several copies and new designs have now appeared – many of the latest designs are easier to use, with improved safety release capabilities and/or are more strongly built, in order to make them suitable for freeride use as well as for touring. These developments are making pin bindings an attractive proposition to the majority of backcountry skiers – ie they are no longer the preserve of racers and the ‘weight obsessed’.
Pin Bindings and Release Safety
Please note that Fritschi’s Vipec and Tecton pin bindings offer lateral toe safety release, with release tension adjustment – ie they have the same safety features as found on alpine downhill bindings and traditional bar/frame design touring bindings. However, all the other popular makes and models of pin bindings – including all Dynafit, Plum and Marker pin bindings – do not have this feature (they only release sideways at the heel); which may have safety implications in certain types of fall. Therefore, if you are a skier who takes regular falls in difficult snow conditions, then we do not recommend using pin bindings that don’t have lateral toe release – as in our opinion, these designs are only suitable for experienced and good standard off piste skiers (ie at least level 3, preferably 4 or 5 on our Off Piste Skiing Ability Levels).
It is important to consider these different release capabilities before choosing which pin bindings to buy – ie you need to decide which you want to prioritise: maximum weight saving, or maximum release safety features.
In order to use pin bindings, you need a pair of compatible ski boots with the appropriate metal pin tech inserts moulded into the toe and heel (you cannot retro fit them to older boots). Nowadays just about all new touring and freeride boots come with these fitted as standard, but if you have a particularly old pair of boots (ie 10-15+ years old!), then you may have to upgrade these as well in order to use pin bindings.
Below we give our opinions on various well established and newer touring binding models currently (or recently) on the market.
Fritschi Vipec Evo (1.1kg) Along with it’s big brother the Tecton (see below) this is currently the only widely available pin binding with full alpine safety release capability. The design has a full sideways toe release, allows changing from ski to walk mode without removing the ski, the rear binding allows full ski flex without affecting the boot/binding interface and it has a ‘high din’ lockout mode at the toe (so the ski stays on whilst skinning, but will still release if you get caught in an avalanche whilst skinning) – these are all major advantages over other pin bindings on the market.
Fritschi have been making continual improvements to the design, with the latest Fritschi Vipec Evo being an excellent binding. I’ve skied on Vipecs for 4 full seasons now and although the early versions had their foibles, Fritschi have addressed these issues in the new Evo and Tecton versions and these are now the only pin bindings that I recommend to clients who want to save weight but not compromise on safety, when upgrading from their older bar/rail design touring bindings.
The reason I recommend Fritschi bindings is because they are light (1.1-1.2kg depending on model, including brakes) and they are the only pin bindings with full lateral toe release – ie they offer all the same safety capabilities as alpine and bar/rail design touring bindings, so there’s no safety compromise in swapping over to them.
With all other pin bindings on the market, you lose lateral toe release – which increases your risk of rotational tib/fib fractures in certain types of fall. The only 2 people I’ve ever had to chopper off a mountain both suffered exactly this injury whilst skiing on pin bindings, so it is an issue – especially if you fall over a lot in poor vis or tricky snow.
Fritschi Tecton (1.2kg) With this new freeride model, it looks like Fritschi have finally realised the Holy Grail of ski touring bindings – it’s light, high performing, strong enough for freeride and resort use, as well as touring and has the same safety release features as a regular alpine binding.
The toepiece on the Tecton is identical to the Vipec Evo, with a very much improved step in function (it’s now one of the easiest pin bindings to step into on the market) – however, the heel is quite different. The Tecton features an Alpine binding style heelpiece, which locks down over the back of the boot, rather than engaging with pins. However, it uses the pin boot mouldings to increase the lateral heel stability, which is a weak point of other pin binding designs that release laterally at the heel. The upshot of all this is convenience of use and much improved performance in freeride situations, where far bigger forces are transmitted through the boot/ski/binding interface. So in short, if you want one binding to do everything on, this finally looks to be it!
Dynafit Tourlite Speed (0.66kg) The original pin binding design, still going strong after 30 years. It’s a lightweight touring only model, but if both weight and cost are an issue, then these lightweight pin bindings are a good choice (see release safety notes above before you buy though).
Dynafit TLT Superlight 2.0 (0.35kg) The lightest pin binding available with adjustable safety release tension and brakes (0.52kg incl brakes). If weight saving is your absolute priority, then these are an ideal choice.
NB If you already own a set of superlight pin bindings, but also want to have brakes on your skis – then there are a couple of retrofit ski brakes available for pin bindings. The best we’ve come across are made by the Italian company Kreuzspitze – these weigh 88g each, they are very well made and fit onto the harscheisen slot of your pin bindings.
With a small locking button mounted onto the ski, the brakes can be fitted for skiing down and removed for skinning up, just like your harscheisen. Clearly it’s a bit more hassle than having permanently fitted ski brakes, but you can add brakes to an existing lightweight setup, so it’s an option worth knowing about.
Dynafit Rotation ST and FT (1.2kg) Beefier, more user friendly all-round touring version of the original – these have a swivelling toe piece to improve release behaviour and also come with brakes. This model replaces last years Radical and fixes the step in problems that it suffered. The ST model is designed for use on skis under 100mm under foot, whereas the FT model has a wider drilling pattern designed to be used on skis over 100mm under foot. Please note however, that the FT is still only a lightweight touring binding – ie it’s not strong enough for regular off piste or resort use.
G3 Ion (1.2kg) I used to like the look of these, until I discovered that they have a couple of major weaknesses – firstly, the heel unit is very laterally flexible and more importantly, the toe piece doesn’t release properly when used with certain models of touring boots – ie great if you ski steeps and never want them to come off, but a major flaw for the rest of us!
Plum Yak (1.2kg) French pin binding, similar to the Dynafit bindings but with a few tweaks – they look lovely with all metal construction, come with brakes, the boot heel sits on a platform for stability and they have wider mounting holes for use on 100mm+ skis.
NB The Plum Guide range of lightweight pin bindings are similar to the Dynafit Tourlite Speed bindings – ie less mass – but in addition, the Plum bindings have optional ski brakes available. Plum bindings are not the lightest on the market, but they are well engineered and extremely well made, so if durability is a prime concern, then these could be a good choice.
Marker Kingpin 10 + 13 (1.46Kg) – TUV safety release certified freeride bindings. These are a hybrid design, using a pin attachment at the toe and a regular alpine binding attachment at the heel, which has a ski/walk mode added (ie a similar concept to the Tecton). However unlike the Tecton, these don’t have lateral toe release – so I wouldn’t recommend using them for regular resort skiing, where full safety release is much more important than weight saving.
They are solidly built and easy to use (but can be prone to pre release at the heel when skiing fast on rough, firm snow). They weigh in at 1.46kg, which is very respectable.
Dynafit Beast – burly freeride pin binding. These are now discontinued, but you may still come across them – they were quite complicated and not compatible with all boots.
Bar/Frame Design Touring Bindings
Bar and frame design touring and freeride bindings work in a similar way to alpine bindings, with the obvious addition of a walk mode, plus various adaptations to make them compatible with freeride and ski mountaineering boots. Those models marketed as freeride bindings have a more robust construction, that’s designed to take the abuse of lift accessed off piste skiing, as well as human powered touring. They are consequently potentially more versatile, but also heavier, than pure touring models.
All of these bindings come with full alpine safety release capabilities. Fritschi are probably the leading brand in terms of being the longest established in the market and having an excellent reputation for reliability. Although they weigh more than pin bindings, these designs are easier to step into and you can use them with alpine downhill boots too, so they are still a good option for resort use, where convenience and compatibility may be a bigger consideration than absolute weight.
All weights are quoted for a pair of bindings with brakes (if available).
Fritschi Eagle 12 (2.0kg) The best selling touring binding on the market for years and with good reason – they work extremely well and are very reliable. Buy ski brakes too as a matter of course. NB For for lighter skiers, the Scout 11 model goes down to a DIN release 3 and weighs 1.8kg with brakes.
Fritschi Freeride Pro (2.2kg) Freeride binding – ie a beefed up version of the above, designed to take abuse from a lot of lift based off piste skiing too. These ski really well, are easy to use and very reliable – a good choice if you do mainly resort skiing, with just a bit of touring. Brakes are included in the package.
Marker Duke and Baron (~2.8kg) these are freeride bindings designed for skinning short distances, rather than dedicated ski touring bindings. They are great to ski down on, but not really designed for out and out touring, where the extra weight and design features make them slower and more awkward to use than dedicated touring bindings.
Scott/Salomon Guardian (~2.7kg) a good freeride binding, better designed and more practical for touring on than the Markers. An alternative to Fritschi Freerides if you want a binding primarily for off piste and day touring, that you can also do the odd longer tour on as well. NB Atomic also market this as their Tracker binding.
Marker Tour TR (~2.2Kg) this is a lightened up version of the Duke and Baron, with the same design features. For this reason, we don’t think it makes a good dedicated touring binding, so we’d choose the Fritschi Eagle instead.
BACKCOUNTRY SKI BOOTS
We make no apology for erring to the performance end of the market here – as good, fully custom fitted boots will improve your skiing and enjoyment more than anything else. To start with, go for a full thermofit liner and a custom made footbed straight away – it will always be worth it. After that, foot volume, individual fit and boot weight may well decide your final choice – but we give notes on various favourite models below:
3-4 Buckle Ski Mountaineering Boots
Ski Mountaineering boots have a vibram rubber sole unit with a rocker shape to aid walking and climbing in, as well as skiing in – consequently they are the most popular choice for multiday ski touring. We concentrate here on supportive 3-4 buckle boots, which are most appropriate for the majority of British Ski Tourers – the good news is that these boots have become considerably lighter in recent years (many now dipping under 3kg a pair, as opposed to 3.6-3.8kg just a few years ago) without any compromise in either fit or ski performance. Walk modes have also improved massively in recent years, thanks to developments in ski mountaineering race boots.
Scarpa Maestrale 2.0 (2.8kg) – Scarpa’s top all rounder has been revamped this season, with lighter weight and an improved walk mode. This model has a relatively low volume fit. The Maestrale RS 2.0 is a stiffer version of the same.
Scott Cosmos III (2.9kg) – the Cosmos is another excellent 4 buckle design, with a slightly broader fit than the Maestrale.
Scott Superguide Carbon (2.8kg) – same shell shape as the Cosmos, but with added carbon! This makes the boot stiffer and lighter – but will also make your wallet lighter at the same time.
La Sportiva Spectre 2 (2.87kg) – Light, high performance touring boot from La Sportiva. 4 buckle design and an excellent walk mode – has a similar shape and volume to the Cosmos.
La Sportiva Synchro (3.1kg) – new boot this year, based on the Spectre above, with a stiffer tongue and carbon inserts in the shell to boost performance on the descent.
Dynafit Beast (2.9kg) – another good high performing boot with a slightly higher volume fit, so could be a good option if you have wider feet.
Technica Zero G Guide (3.2kg) – new, lightweight version of the popular Cochise freeride boot. Stiff and powerful boot, at much reduced a touring weight.
Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD130 (2.9kg) – new, lightweight version of the Hawx Ultra 130 freeride boot. With this model, Atomic are finally getting the hang of touring boots – producing a mid volume boot, with a highly customisable fit.
Regarding inners – foam injection inners are known for giving a precise fit, but they are too cold for ski touring. Instead, go for Scarpa Intuition inners which are the best thermo fit inners on the market at the moment.
Lightweight 2 Buckle Ski Mountaineering Boots
Race derived superlight touring boots have now entered the mainstream to cater for keen, good standard ski tourers who want to save as much weight as possible. In general you only get 2 buckles instead of 4, but if you are a good skier, then these boots can perform extremely well and save considerable effort on the climbs. Other useful features gained from their race heritage are very good walk modes and quick lockdown systems for changing over from walk to ski mode and vica versa.
The other important thing to note about this type of boot concerns fitting and making boot modifications. Because they are derived from race boots, many have a lower volume fit and all are made of lightweight materials. This means that shops are sometimes unable (or unwilling) to stretch the shells as much as on regular ski boots – so you need to make sure they fit your feet pretty well out of the box, without requiring extensive stretching or modification to get them to fit.
Scarpa F1 EVO (2.2kg) – my personal favourite. I find that the F1 EVO gives excellent support and all day comfort. They have a bit more volume than the TLT7 and the shell does allow for limited stretching in some areas (eg across the ball of the foot) but not everywhere. NB The manual lever version is robust and very reliable, so I currently recommend this option. This season I will also be testing the Mk2 Tronic hands free autolock system, to see Scarpa have resolved the issues with it’s original design.
Scarpa Alien RS (1.78kg) – new out this year. Supportive race boot, beefed up for fast and light ski mountaineering. Lower volume fit, but limited shell modifications possible. The boot allows race speed transitions and is very easy to put on and adjust – having tried a pair on, I’m very impressed! I’d recommend this for day touring activities, but would need to test it first with a heavier rucsac on, before multiday tours.
Dynafit TLT7 Expedition CR (2.26Kg) – NB We strongly recommend the CR Version, which is slightly heavier, but has far warmer inners – ie unless you are moving very fast or only ever tour in warm spring conditions, the lighter CL inners are likely to give you cold feet! Like F1 EVOs, they are great to walk in and ski extremely well – but they are a low volume fit, so don’t suit everyone. NNB these also have no toe bail, so you need to use a semi strap on crampon with them.
Atomic Backland Carbon (2.2Kg) – Atomic’s entry into the backcountry ski boot market. Personally, I didn’t get on with these (I’m being very diplomatic here!) – but they may suit you if you’ve got particularly high volume feet.
Important Note: All of the lightweight boots above only work with tech bindings that have a standard 2 pin attachment system at the heel (ie you cannot use them with any bar/frame design bindings, or with the Dynafit Beast or Marker Kingpin bindings).
Freeride boots with interchangeable soles offer great support for off piste skiing, but are only really designed for lift assisted and day touring use. They are not so comfortable for walking and skinning long distances in (ie we’ve seen lots of blistered feet coming out of freeride boots on longer multiday hut tours – if you plan on using the boot for multiday tours, then you may be better looking at a dedicated ski mountaineering boot instead). This is an expanding market, with numerous new models available – a few good ones to look at are:
- Scarpa Freedom SL
- Scarpa Freedom RS
- Salomon QST 130
- Technica Cochise 130
- Lange XT 130 L.V. Freetour
Our advice is simply to go for which ever one gives you the best fit. Of the ones above – the Lange XT 130 gives a low volume fit, the Scarpa Freedom SL and RS give a mid volume fit and the Salomon QST gives a wider volume fit.
WOMEN’S BACKCOUNTRY SKI BOOTS
Nowadays there’s pretty much the same choice in women’s backcountry ski boots as men’s, with all of the major manufacturers producing female specific versions of their popular backcountry models. However, finding a shop that stocks a good range for you to try on often more of a challenge…
NB You’ll be glad to know that the days of ‘shrink it and pink it’ (ie just making smaller versions of men’s gear) are now long gone. The women’s boots are moulded on separately shaped lasts and generally have softer flex properties to cater for lighter weight skiers, but still come with the same features as the men’s boots. Below we’ve highlighted a number of good ones to look at, together with the men’s model that they are equivalent to.
Scarpa Gea 2.0 (2.6kg) – Good quality ski mountaineering boot specifically moulded for women’s feet. Same construction and performance characteristics as the men’s Maestrale boot – see notes above.
Scott Celeste 2 (2.7kg) – High performance women’s ski mountaineering boot – women’s version of the Cosmos – see notes above.
Dynafit Beast W (2.7Kg) – higher volume women’s ski mountaineering boot – women’s version of the Beast.
Scarpa F1 EVO WMN (2.0kg) – women’s version of the F1 EVO.
Scarpa Freedom SL WMN – womens freeride boot. Essentially this is a comfortable, supportive downhill boot with a good walk mode – women’s version of the Scarpa Freedom SL.
Lange XT 110 L.V. Freetour W – women’s version of the Lange XT 130 freeride boot.
SKI TOURING CLOTHING
Just like for other equipment – the best ski touring equipment advice for clothing is to keep the weight down. Light, warm and versatile are the key words to bear in mind when choosing touring clothing – as an average week sees you alternate between carrying clothes in your rucsac on climbs and warm afternoons, to wearing absolutely everything when the weather closes in.
This is a subject in it’s own right, so we’ve written a specific Ski Touring Clothing Advice article for you to look at ski touring clothing choices in more depth.
SKI TOURING CRAMPONS
Very light, alloy framed crampons are available for ski touring which are a great weight saver and suitable for most ‘ski focussed’ tours. Camp XLC’s (390g) and Petzl Leopard FL’s (360g) are the lightest, but don’t have anti ball plates – Black Diamond Neve’s (576g) are superbly made, nearly as light and come with excellent anti ball plates. With both of these superlight options, don’t go buying a pair of these intending them to be your only set of crampons if you also do technical ski mountaineering – as they were only ever designed for stomping up steep snow.
For more technical ski mountaineering trips that may involve climbing on icy ground and snowed up rock, then you still need to use good steel crampons. Currently we reckon that Petzl Charlet Vasak’s (850g) are the best all round mountaineering crampons, so these would be a good choice.
The final option is to go for a hybrid steel/alloy crampon, which offers some of the benefits of both – ie a light weight alloy rear half and strong steel front points to deal with occasional rock and ice. The Petzl Irvis Hybrid (540g) is a good one to look at in this category – unless you are doing a lot of technical ski mountaineering with specific climbing objectives, these will be suitable for the vast majority of ski tours you are likely to do.
CREVASSE RESCUE KIT
If you are joining a guided trip or course, then 2 prussik loops and a 120cm sling with screwgate carabiner is sufficient.
However, a guide would probably be carrying the following:
- belay device
- 5 screwgate carabiners
- 120cm sling
- spare quickdraw
- 2 ice screws
- 2 prussik loops
- Micro Triaxion
- Lightweight pulley or DMM
- Revolver carabiner.
Petzl RAD System
To Quote Petzl: “Complete, ultra-light and compact, the RAD SYSTEM (Rescue And Descent) kit allows skiers on mountain terrain to always have the equipment necessary for crevasse rescue, rappelling, or roping up on skis to traverse a crevasse zone. This kit contains a storage bag, 30 meters of RAD LINE 6 mm specific cordage, carabiners, ascenders and a sling.”
Basically it’s a small bag that weighs just 1 kilo and contains everything you need to either rope up on a glacier, or pull someone out of a crevasse. The haul kit is set up and ready to use inside the bag, so you can just pull it out, attach it to a ski belay and start the rescue immediately. The idea is to have at least 2 kits in a team and ski with them clipped onto your harness constantly at the ready. Costing 200 Euros each, they aren’t cheap – but are pretty good value when you add up the cost of buying all the individual parts.
SKI TOURING HARNESSES
Light and simple are the watchwords here. If you already have a climbing harness, then you can also use it for ski touring too.
However, if you want to save some weight, then there are 2 options: buy a lightweight climbing harness (eg. Petzl Sitta Harness) or an ultralight, specific ski touring harness, such as the Black Diamond Couloir, Petzl Tour and Petzl Altitude – these are all popular choices.
SKI TOURING ICE AXES
There are a number of extremely light alloy headed axes on the market, billed as ski mountaineering models (eg Cassin, Camp XLC ).
Unfortunately, when you try to climb or actually do any work with one of these tools they are very difficult to use effectively, so best reserved for days when you don’t think you are going to need an axe! (ie I wouldn’t bother buying one..)
If you are after a lightweight tool which is genuinely useful when you need it, then look at the Grivel Airtech (400g), or Petzl Glacier Literide (320g) – the shorter 45-48cm lengths fit inside a pack, to keep your axe safely out of the way on descents.
Ideally, buy a pair of ski touring specific poles with extra grip down the top half for traversing – but failing that, any pair of normal fixed length ski poles are fine for ski touring, so long as you put some wider baskets on. Alloy poles are more resistant to knocks and carbon ones are the lightest – but fixed length poles are always stronger and more reliable than telescopic ones. Currently our favourite backcountry ski poles are the Black Crows Oxus (strong) and the Black Diamond Vapor Carbon 1 (ridiculously light!) – they aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for
NB Whatever poles you buy, make sure you have reasonable sized baskets (5cm plus in diameter) for the softer conditions. Leki now make a touring binding friendly basket called the Leki Big Mountain Binding Basket – I’ve not used these yet, but they look good. If you really do prefer telescopic poles, then we strongly recommend the Black Diamond Traverse two stage model – as this is the most reliable telescopic pole on the market.
230-260cm is a good working length and carbon fibre models are lightest. Currently the Black Diamond Quick Draw Carbon and Grivel Carbon Fibre Probes offer the best value in this group.
Alloy probes are stronger but heavier – with Voile, Ortovox and BD all offering very similar products and prices.
SKI TOURING ROPES
It’s common to carry two 30m long, 8mm dynamic ropes in the party – one with the leader and another at the back (in case the leader skis into a crevasse!). Beal market a specific rope of this type called the Randonee, which comes in 30m and 48m lengths. Having said that, many variations occur depending on the type of tour and the obstacles expected – you may see guides carrying everything from 40m of 7mm static cord, to a full weight, full length rope.
SKI TOURING RUCSACS
A 35-40l pack with a u shaped zip opening rather than a lid is the classic touring sac. Other useful features are a close, body hugging fit, ability to carry skis together on the back (like you would carry a snowboard) and as few excess features as possible (though it’s difficult to achieve this without taking a knife to most sacs!)
Deuter, Ortovox and Mammut make a number of good touring sacs of this type – Eg the Mammut Spindrift, Ortovox Haute Route 32 and Deuter Guide are all well designed and big enough for multiday hut tours – each offering slightly different features depending on what range of activities you plan to use the sac for.
AVALANCHE AIRBAG RUCSACS
Avalanche airbag rucsacs have become more popular in recent years, especially amongst off piste and freeride skiers. Not as many ski tourers have started using them yet though, because they add extra weight to your pack – however there are new packs available that only weight about 2kg, making them far more suitable for ski touring.
Other barriers to adoption have been the not inconsiderable cost (£550-£650) and perceived issues with carrying the gas canisters that most of the systems use on flights. All of the gas cans are compliant with IATA safety regulations and are ok to take onto flights in Europe (indeed, most people don’t experience any problems at all flying to popular ski destinations with them nowadays) – but you should still always contact the airline in advance to let them know and also take the manufacturers flight safety paperwork with you to the airport in order to show if needed.
Gas canisters are not allowed on flights in North America however, so you need a refillable canister or electric powered system for travelling there.
In terms of what’s available, there are now several different systems on the market; most use gas canisters to inflate the airbags, but 2 new systems use electric powered fans. For the gas canister based systems, the principle user differences to consider are as follows:
- ease of deployment
- total system weight
- rucsac design
- interchangeability between rucsacs
- ease of replacement of the gas can in resort/after deployment
The other 2 systems released recently use a rechargeable battery and a fan to inflate the airbag. This clearly offers a number of advantages – ie no problems with flying (it’s a laptop battery), multiple deployments (4+ per charge), ease of practice in using the system and no difficulty replacing gas canisters after deployment. You still need to consider all the other factors above though, before selecting a system.
For each system listed below, the weight quoted is for a rucsac big enough to use on a multiday tour. For freeride and day touring use, smaller and lighter rucsacs are available for all of these systems.
Ortovox Ascent 30 Avabag – 2.1Kg Arguably the lightest airbag system on the market. Comes with a practice mode, so you can train without deploying the canister each time. Well designed pack, with an interchangeable airbag system, so it can be installed in different packs. Non refillable cartridge, so cannot be taken on flights in N America.
Mammut Pro Protection 35L – 2.3kg Another very light removable airbag system – can be fitted into any compatible pack, of which there are many. A refillable cartridge (300g heavier than the non refillable one) is also available, which can be filled up in resort (any dive shop or paintball centre can also refill it) – ie makes flying with an empty canister possible in North America.
BCA Float 32 – 3.06kg The BCA packs are competitively priced and use a refillable gas canister, so have similar advantages to the Mammut system above. The main difference is that the system is fixed permanently into the pack, so you can’t swap it between rucsacs. They also make a 42l version at 3.3kg if you need more space.
ABS Vario L 32L – 3.2kg ABS are the original manufacturer and have been making airbag rucsacs for nearly 30 years. The vario base unit allows different packs to be zipped on and off in a matter of seconds. Tried and trusted system. The one drawback is that both the used handle and canister must be sent back for replacement after each deployment. This is Ok if you are near to a dealership and able to swap these out in resort, but a big problem if you are anywhere else.
Scott Alpride 30 – 2.9kg Just about big enough for multiday touring if you pack carefully! The Alpride system is light and also gets around flight issues by using the same gas canisters as are used in aircraft lifejackets (ie there’s one under every seat on the plane). It’s a modular system, so you can swap it between compatible rucsacs and the gas canisters are cheap and readily available, so you can potentially take spares with you.
Black Diamond Saga 40 Jetforce – 3.4kg The deployment system on this pack uses a rechargeable battery and fan system to inflate the airbags. This creates to a number of significant advantages, but the most important two are: no issues with flying (it’s a laptop battery) and multiple deployments are possible (4+ per charge), so you won’t hesitate to deploy it (this is a significant advantage over gas canister systems).
Arc’teryx Voltair 30L – 3.4Kg Arc’teryx’ own battery powered avalanche pack. Fully waterproof, super well designed pack, with the same advantages as BD’s Jetforce system above.
The new battery powered systems have several advantages, but also a couple of downsides that we can see:
1. The packs are considerably heavier than the lightest gas powered models.
2. The whole system including the battery is fixed into the pack, so you can’t change the rucsac, or replace the battery if it begins to lose it’s charging capacity.
I’d be surprised if these issues aren’t improved on, or resolved in future models though.
We only recommend metal bladed shovels, as when digging in real life in hard avalanche debris, plastic blades flex so much that they and are totally ineffective.
The Black Diamond Deploy 3 (565g) is a great metal shovel with a telescopic handle, the Mammut Alugator Light is similar, a little cheaper and lighter (482g), but with a slightly smaller blade.
SKI TOURING SKINS
Black Diamond skins and Colltex skins are both good, reliable choices and currently we think that Contour Hybrid Mix Skins have some of the best glue (all Black Crows Pellis skins and Atomic skins are made by Contour – we’ve been very impressed with them). Black Diamond Ultralite Skins weigh 30% less than previous models, so are worth checking out.
For European conditions, go for mixed fibre skins – pure mohair skins only glide a little better at non racing speeds, but they wear out 3-4 times faster…
Skins are either sold pre-cut to a particular model of ski, or more commonly they come with a cut-to-fit device. 3G skins are identical to BD ones, just rebranded in a different colour.
There are plenty of changes going on in glue technology at the moment, with new types of glue that utilize different properties in order to stick. Colltex Whizz Skins are the latest example of this, using an acrylic based adhesive layer – though feedback on these has been mixed so far.
SKI TOURING HELMETS
We are seeing a lot more folk touring with helmets nowadays – so I thought it would be useful to highlight a few good quality lightweight models that have decent venting and removable ear flaps, to make them suitable for ski touring.
First up, the Salomom MTN Lab Helmet is designed specifically for backcountry skiing and passes both the climbing helmet and ski helmet safety tests – it’s very light at a claimed 250g and has two different liners – a winter one with ear flaps incorporated and a summer one without. We’ve used this helmet a lot for skiing and like it, but like all specialist helmets it’s at the upper end of the price scale – but you get what you pay for!
Next, the K2 Route Helmet is designed for backcountry skiing and boarding and is light at a claimed 320g – it comes with good venting, removable ear flaps and headlamp/goggle clips. This one also passes the cycle helmet test, so can be used for mountain biking in the summer.
Finally, the Alpina Snow Tour Helmet is designed for ski touring, but also passes the climbing helmet test, so you can use it for both activities. It’s light at 315g, has good ventilation so that you won’t overheat and for colder weather, it comes with a compatible beanie that you can wear either under the helmet or on it’s own. Like the others, it has attachment points for both ski goggles and a headlamp.
SKIS – RESORT AND TOURING
A minefield this one! Here we aim to flag up a few of the best ‘light all mountain skis’ or ‘robust touring skis’ around that deliver good on and off piste performance, without being too heavy for touring – ie for Brits wanting one ski for all.
NB Verified Ski Weights. For the majority of skis we quote a real world ski weight at a particular length – ie as recorded on the Alpine Guides Scales of Truth(!) Where weights are quoted without a ski length, then this is the manufacturers claimed weight (we’ll add more real world weights whenever we get the opportunity).
Movement Apex (3.0kg at 177cm, 130-94-119, 19m radius). Guides favourite – best for good skiers, new improved construction, this lively ski makes a brilliant one ski setup with a bias toward off piste and touring.
Movement Icon 95 (3.45kg at 175cm, 135-95-123, 14m radius). Great fun ski, light enough to tour on and an ideal choice for a first off piste ski. Super easy handling – a perfect ski for venturing off piste and improving your skills on.
Black Crows Orb Freebird – (2.93kg at 178cm, 125-90-112, 15m radius) New version of this award winning ski has added tip rocker and a shorter radius, making it easier to ski and an excellent choice for a wide range of skiers.
Dynastar Legend X 96 – (3.6kg at 178cm, 132-96-112, 15m radius) brilliant new ski based on the classic Cham 97, this is an excellent lightweight freeride ski with a rocker tip, flat tail and Paulownia wood core. The women’s version is called the Legend W 96.
Black Crows Camox Freebird – (3.4kg at 178cm, 128-97-114, 18m radius) Plenty of rocker on this great backcountry charging ski, built strong enough to ski around resort on too. Best to size up, due to the long tip rocker.
Black Diamond Route 95 – (3.2kg at 173cm, 123-95-113) Great in powder, easy handling and a durable poplar wood core make this an excellent choice for a robust, off piste and touring ski.
Blizzard Black Pearl 88 – (2.85kg at 159cm, 125-88-110, 15m radius) Superb women’s ski – new superlight construction make this a category defying ski: a great one-ski-for-everything choice for resort and touring.
Blizzard Black Pearl 98 – (3.2kg at 166cm, 135-98-119, 15m radius) Last years award winning ‘Samba’ womens’ ski, renamed as the Pearl 98 – brilliant women’s deep snow and powder ski.
Movement Beyond 88 (2.7kg at 160cm, 126-88-114, 13m radius) Last years superb ‘Ultimate’ womens’ ski, renamed as the Beyond 88 – excellent lightweight ski for both resort and touring use.
Movement Beyond 94 (3.1kg at 160cm, 132-94-119, 13m radius) Another great womens’ ski – more width and float than the 88 model, but with the same easy handling characteristics and a very reasonable weight.
SKIS – LIGHTWEIGHT TOURING
If saving weight is a consideration, then this is the way to go – again the market is huge, but we’ve flagged up a few of the best wider bodied touring skis that are suitable for all round European Alpine conditions.
A quick note on useage: although these skis are designed for ski touring, we’ve for the most part selected models here that in many conditions ski just as well as resort skis and have a strong and reliable construction, so as long as you’re not totally ragging them, they’re ok for a bit of resort use too – ie fine as a one ski setup with a strong focus on touring.
Dynafit Speed 90 (2.44kg at 176cm, 125-91-112, 18.5m radius) Excellent new premium ski from Dynafit. An incredibly light touring ski, that performs as well as skis a full kilo heavier – the ultimate ‘have your cake and eat it’ ski! Also suitable as an all rounder, with a strong bias towards touring.
Rossignol Seek 7 (2.55Kg at 176cm, 122-86-108, 20m radius) Rossignol enter the touring market with a total winner – playful, easy handling, light and very well priced ski. NB available in both mens’ and womens’ sizes.
Black Crows Ova Freebird (2.3kg at 178cm, 124-85-106) New superlight construction this year, makes this now a ‘touring only’ ski – but it performs extremely well in a wide range of conditions. Ideal for long, multiday tours.
Salomon MTN Explore 88 (2.6kg at 177cm, 125-88-111, 18m radius) Excellent, confidence inspiring, best-selling lightweight touring ski that’s suitable for a wide variety of conditions, including some skiing around resort. A great choice if you struggle in trees and tight places.
Blizzard Zero G 85 (2.4kg at 178cm, 116-85-99) A brilliant ski for steeper terrain and ski mountaineering. Best for good standard skiers.
Scott Superguide 95 (2.86kg at 178cm, 128-95-116, variable 3d radius) If you want to save weight, whilst sacrificing a minimum of performance, then Superguide 95s are a great option.
Black Diamond Helio 95 (2.75kg at 173cm, 123-95-113) Superlight carbon version of the Route 95 – great powder performance and also good edge grip in firmer conditions.
Blizzard Zero G 95 (2.75kg at 178, 128-95-112) Incredibly light, but powerful ski – best for experts.
Atomic Backland 95 (2.7kg, 128-95-116) New lighter weight construction for this popular ski (it looks great too!) – good balance of float, weight and edge hold.
Dynafit Tour 88 Woman (2.4kg at 158cm, 123-88-107, 16m radius). New lightweight womens’ touring ski from Dynafit – good edge hold, easy at lower speeds, nimble in tight terrain and particularly suited to longer tours.
Scott Superguide 88 Ws (2.2kg at 154cm, 121-87-110, 16m radius). New womens’ specific version of the Superguide 88 – incredibly light for the ascents, good performance on the descents. A great multiday touring ski.
NB – Superlight Skis. There are many different models of very light skis available nowadays, but you need to choose extremely carefully in this category, as quite a few are either difficult to ski on and/or not so strongly built (ie thinner edges, bases and sidewalls – these are the most vulnerable parts of the ski).
Depending on materials used and quality of construction, there is definitely a limit to weight saving where both ski performance and strength drop off markedly. We’ve tested, rejected and/or broken numerous superlight skis for one or other of the above reasons. This contrasts markedly with top end off piste and resort skis, which are pretty much all good skis nowadays!
SKIS – WIDE BODIED TOURING
The following are a selection of lightweight, wide bodied touring skis designed for human powered adventures – eg powder touring, steeps etc.
NB Please note that all of the skis listed in the two categories above are also wide enough to enjoy a great days powder skiing whilst out ski touring in Europe (10 years ago, 90mm underfoot was considered a super specialist powder ski) – ie you don’t need superwide 100mm+ skis all of the time, but you may want to have a pair of wider skis, in order to have as much fun as possible on fresh snow days.
With that in mind then, here are a few of the best lightweight wide bodied touring skis on the market at the moment – in order to convince yourself that you really do need a pair!
Scott Superguide 105 (3.1kg at 183cm, 135-105-124, 23m radius) Fall Line Magazine’s Ski of the Year last season – a superb lightweight, wide bodied ski that’s very easy to get on with and also great fun for occasional resort days.
Black Diamond Helio 105 (3.15kg at 185, 132-105-109) Premium lightweight soft snow ski – all that carbon is worth the money though; great in powder, easy to ski in other snow types and a joy to push uphill.
Black Crows Navis Freebird (3.25Kg at 179cm, 133-102-118, 19m radius) The green machines – more width and rocker than the Camox, these skis have a strong following amongst high mountain steeps aficionados.
Black Crows Corvus Freebird (3.45kg at 175cm, 139-109-122) – 109mm wide, bright pink and awesome – a top backcountry soft snow ski.
Blizzard Zero G 108 (3.5kg at 185cm, 136-108-122) Superlight version of Blizzards’ famous Cochise, brings similar performance to the high mountains.
SKS – LIGHTWEIGHT FREERIDE
The following are a selection of lightened up freeride skis that are durable enough for daily resort use, but fine to push uphill for an hour or two – ie for powder, lift assisted backcountry skiing and day touring.
Salomon QST 106 (3.7kg at 174cm, 140-106-126) Top quality backcountry charger ski from Salomon.
Atomic Backland FR 109 (3.9kg, 135-109-125) Excellent 109mm wide freeride skis for men.
Rossignol Soul 7 HD (3.8kg at 180cm, 136-106-126) The iconic Soul 7 gets revamped this year – lighter weight, better edge hold and better damping, these are sure to be a popular choice.
Fischer Ranger 108 Ti (3.9kg, 140-108-10) Combines Titanal with a lightweight wood core to produce a full blown freeride ski which you can still push uphill.
Black Crows Atris – (3.9kg at 178cm, 137-107-127, 18m radius) They’re not the lightest, but we love ‘em – the Atris is our favourite wide bodied charging ski for blasting around resorts and further afield. The womens’ version is called the Atris Birdie.